fMRI localization of spinal cord processing underlying female sexual arousal (2016)

Author(s): MS Alexander, N Kozyrev, RL Bosma, CR Figley, JS Richards, and PW Stroman

Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy 42(1) 36–47

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the authors aimed to determine the roles of the human
spinal cord in mediating sexual responses in women. Functional magnetic resonance imaging of
the entire lower thoracic, lumbar, and sacral spinal cord was performed using a sexual stimulation
paradigm designed to elicit psychological and physical components of sexual arousal. Responses
were measured in 9 healthy adult women during 3 consecutive conditions: (a) erotic audiovisual, (b)
manual clitoral, and (c) audiovisual plus manual stimulation. Functional magnetic resonance imaging
results in healthy subjects demonstrate that this method is sensitive for mapping sexual function
in the spinal cord, and identify several key regions involved in human sexual response, including
the intermediolateral cell column, the dorsal commissural nucleus, and the sacral parasympathetic
nucleus. Using spinal functional magnetic resonance imaging, this study identified many of the spinal
cord regions involved in female sexual responses. Results from audiovisual and manual clitoral
stimulation correspond with previous data regarding lumbar and sacral neurologic changes during
sexual arousal. This study provides the first characterization of neural activity in the human spinal
cord underlying healthy female sexual responses and sets a foundation for future studies aimed at
mapping changes that result from sexual dysfunction, spinal cord trauma or disease.

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